Abraham must have quivered at such an inconceivable command. Take your son, the son of the great promise, to the top of a mountain and burn him on an altar of sacrifice. Perhaps Abraham waited–had he heard correctly? After waiting so long to see God's mighty hand work through a postmenopausal wife and withering old man! God had granted the gift he had promised. But to take that gift to the top of a mountain and kill him? Abraham must have cowered before the Lord at that command, dumbfounded. Genesis 22 shares a key concept with us that Abraham did not know. God was testing him. Isaac would endure testing too, when he figured out that he was the sacrifice.
Genesis 22 records the mind-blowing scene. Isaac asks his father, “Where is the sacrifice? We have the fire and we have the wood, but what will we offer the Lord?” Abraham, not knowing how to frame what was about to happen says, “God himself will provide the lamb, my son.” Isaac finds out after the wood has been placed on the altar that he is the lamb.
Sacrifices are something modern minds have a hard time understanding. While we accept that God is sovereign, and loving, and almighty, his holiness is hard to imagine. We who were born in sin have a hard time understanding. God’s word tells us that we must fear Him and that He Is not like us; He is holy. Those of us who are born in sin and swim through sin each day, have a hard time understanding his perfection. We can only come before him as the redeemed, covered with the blood of Jesus Christ.
Tim Keller, in his book on forgiveness, teaches that the beauty of forgiveness lies in the fact there is a penalty to be paid, and God in His love gave himself, through the personhood of Christ in the Trinity, to make sure the penalty was paid. Jesus' gift to us is the gift of the Lamb, the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. This Lamb allows us to stand before the Lord as the saved instead of sinners.
Isaac surely came to the horrible conclusion–he was the sacrifice, when Abraham tied him up. Jesus understood he was the sacrifice at the point of His incarnation, when He became flesh and was born in a Manger. That arrival represented the first step of a journey toward the cross which would pay blood for my sin.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is, in a vital way, a foreshadowing event. Isaac was not the ultimate sacrifice. In Genesis 22, God provided a ram, a male sheep caught in the thicket who became Abraham’s sacrifice. Likewise, humanity does not have to pay for its own sin. We cannot. So God provides the lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus Christ, arrives, very fittingly, to earth in a barn and rests in a Manger, among common folk and even shepherds! The patterns in God's word are stunning and beautiful. Think about it–this Lamb gave His life to give us full, abundant life. His great losses power our incredible gain–an intimate relationship with a holy, almighty God.